But Does the Art Have to be Good?

In my previous post I featured a story about the sonification of climate data (https://stemtosteamihe.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/sing-of-song-of-science/). A student created a simple cello piece from global temperature numbers over time. This story was covered widely by both the conventional media and the blogosphere. The resulting music was described as beautiful (http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-07/story-warming-climate-told-through-song) and haunting (http://iamchiq.fooyoh.com/iamchiq_living_lifestyle/8555284). The wide coverage of the piece indicates that it was successful in increasing the communication of the climate change message to the general public, which was, in fact, the goal of the exercise.

But one blogger, Smashly, pointed out that the resulting cello piece, while showing great initiative and some creativity, didn’t actually qualify as great, or even really good, music (http://madartlab.com/2013/07/04/more-adventures-in-terrible-data-sonification/). I’d have to agree.  I doubt that it would have been described positively by folks who heard it if they hadn’t known the backstory. She calls for musicians to take up the challenge to make data sound like real, truly moving music by, to start, finding the right chords to put behind the notes that represent the numbers.  Andrew Revin of the New York Times made a similar point (http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/02/global-warming-trend-and-variations-charted-by-cello/?_r=0). NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt has proposed a symphonic approach to climate change communication (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/blogs/earthmatters/2011/10/13/news-roundup-when-music-and-climate-change-meet-a-hair-below-a-sea-ice-record-and-more/).

Sunday on the Pot with George (Museum of Bad Art, Somerville, MA, USA)

Sunday on the Pot with George by Anonymous (Museum of Bad Art, Somerville, MA, USA)

So what does this mean for educators? Does the art produced through STEAM have to be any good? Some folks have asked me about assessment — how can STEM professors assess the art that’s produced through STEAM projects? These are my thoughts:

1. Perhaps we don’t have to – it’s possible to focus on the STEM content alone. I’ve done that and it worked well.

2. If one purpose of including art is to communicate the science to a general audience, that aspect could be assessed through surveys. The audience could be surveyed regarding knowledge and opinions before and after exposure to the art. In many cases, better art would equate with better communication.

3. In some cases the STEM professor is also an artist, and could bring that expertise to the development and assessment of the course.

4. A STEM professor and an art professor could collaborate on a STEAM course.

or

5. A STEM and an art class could be combined for a joint project as we saw at DePauw University (https://stemtosteamihe.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/the-use-of-sculpture-to-teach-protein-folding/).

So, no, I don’t think that the resulting art necessarily has to be good. If good art is one of your teaching goals, then you’ll need to build that into the course in formal way. Maybe you’ll make a new friend in the Art, Music, or Theater Department!

Sing a Song of Science

Image

Cello Player (Amedeo Modigliani)

Scientists have a responsibility to share their findings with the general public in a clear and compelling way. STEM graduate and undergraduate students should be taught to communicate with both scientific and general audiences. Communication of pressing environmental concerns, including climate change, is especially important. Double-majors and students from other disciplines may contribute communication skills less common among scientists.

Music can be an accessible form of communication and speaks to human emotions. Daniel Crawford, an undergraduate at the University of Minnesotta (http://www1.umn.edu/twincities/index.html), was tasked by Prof. Scott St. George (http://www.tc.umn.edu/~stgeorge/Scott_St._George/Main.html) with translating global temperature data from the Goddard Institute of Space Studies (http://www.giss.nasa.gov) into a cello piece. Crawford created this work as part of his internship in the Geography Department, demonstrating the importance of funding for undergraduate research experiences.

How about this for an assignment for your class? Each student must find creative way to express the same global temperature data. Hmm, maybe I’ll try that!

Click through for a story on the project and access to the score for A Song for Our Warming Planet: http://ensia.com/videos/a-song-of-our-warming-planet/

Sunny Day!

Cookie Monster, a philosophical Muppet who now enjoys cookies in addition to a well-balanced diet, comes out to greet Marine families during a USO performance of Sesame Street Live aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River, April 28. During the show, Cookie Monster gave advice to Marine families about moving away from friends.

Cookie Monster, a philosophical Muppet who now enjoys cookies in addition to a well-balanced diet, comes out to greet Marine families during a USO performance of Sesame Street Live aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River. During the show, Cookie Monster gave advice to Marine families about moving away from friends.

This year Sesame Street (http://www.sesamestreet.org), a long-running children’s television program grounded in education research, has followed a curriculum in STEAM!!

Okay, you may wonder, why should educators at the university level care?

Here’s why we should care:

  1. Universities prepare early childhood education teachers. If their university-level STEM training includes STEAM, early childhood teachers can build on the Sesame Street STEAM curriculum in their own classrooms.
  2. We do and will continue to have STEM majors who have experienced STEAM at the preK-12 level. We can take advantage of these funds of knowledge in STEAM that our students bring to the classroom.
  3. Pre-K and university efforts in STEAM bear remarkable similarities, as evidenced in the Sesame Street curriculum document that supported this year’s work (STEM+A Curricular Seminar Summary: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Art). In many passages one could simply swap the word student for the word child to produce something that looks like an argument for STEAM in higher ed. Quite a few of the examples of content (not included here) are also adaptable to the university level. Greater communication across all levels of teaching and learning will move us forward faster.

Check out these quotes from the document:

“We can also help make the connection between scientific and innovative thinking to clearly demonstrate that the Arts can be used to inspire learning and teach STEM concepts. These process skills enable children to formulate thoughts into investigable questions, solve problems, and allow for the learning of new concepts and “big ideas” to become apparent and meaningful.”

“We can also help make the connection between scientific and innovative thinking to clearly demonstrate that the Arts can be used to inspire learning and teach STEM concepts. These process skills enable children to formulate thoughts into investigable questions, solve problems, and allow for the learning of new concepts and “big ideas” to become apparent and meaningful.”

Articulation across all levels of education, including high quality children’s programming, is important as we work to improve STEM teaching and learning.

Plus, who doesn’t love Sesame Street? Tell me, who’s your favorite muppet??

[While Sesame Street is a driven by a whole-child curriculum, they revise their curriculum to highlight specific educational needs. To address these needs, they invite advisors (academics, researchers, teachers, parent engagement professionals, and others) to join them for a curriculum seminar in which they present their research and experience. Colleagues at Sesame Workshop were kind enough to share with me the confidential curriculum document that resulted from the Season 43 curricular seminar on STEAM. Thank you, Sesame Workshop!]